Biblical Principles for Youth Ministry 

For the longest time, I have had the privilege to go and teach biblical principles for youth ministry up country in smaller Bible colleges and conferences. It was a great time, and I enjoyed being in the village with pastors interested in reaching young people. It was not a hard sell to teach pastors how to reach 75% of their population, which is under the age of 35. Most of them wanted to know how they could better reach young people. My thoughts on the subject mattered little, as my words were not as timeless as God’s. This is why I taught biblical principles for youth ministry.

Why Youth Ministry?

The unspoken question in those Bible colleges and conferences I taught in had always been, Why should we do youth ministry? The village pastors I had the privilege of serving rarely failed to mention, albeit casually, that their youth were struggling and hardly came to church. They wondered if it was even necessary to reach the youth. To which I always responded by sharing the story of Hezekiah from 2 Kings 20:16-19. 

In 2 Kings 20:16-19, we see a conversation between the prophet Isaiah and Hezekiah. Isaiah tells Hezekiah that Babylon was coming to take everything away from Jerusalem (2 Kings 20:17). Hezekiah was told that even young people from Jerusalem would be taken to be slaves and eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon (2 Kings 20:18). All of this should have been devastating news to Hezekiah, but instead of crying in repentance and desiring God’s grace, he responded, “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (2 Kings 20:19). What a saddening statement from a man who was generally known to be a good king (2 Kings 18:2-3) during whose reign Jerusalem was the resting place of God (2 Chronicles 5:13-14, 7:1-4; Psalm 132:13-14). Yet Hezekiah was okay with the coming generation being taken captive by Babylon to become slaves and eunuchs (2 Kings 20:18)! 

After Hezekiah’s death, his son Manasseh took over as king of Judah for 55 years (2 Kings 21:1) and committed great abominations (2 Kings 21:10). Manasseh did more evil than the pagan Amorites. He built altars for false gods in the temple (2 Kings 21:4-5), burned his son alive as a sacrifice (2 Kings 21:6), led Judah to worship idols (2 Kings 21:11), and “shed very much innocent blood” (2 Kings 21:16). This was the son of Hezekiah, the good king (2 Kings 18:3). Why did Manasseh and the people of Judah end up this way? I think the answer is because Hezekiah didn’t care about the next generation moving away from the temple and the presence of God. The impact of Hezekiah’s indifference is seen in Manasseh’s wicked leadership. But this evil trend didn’t stop with Manasseh. It continued with Hezekiah’s grandson Amon (2 Kings 20:19-22) and continued 18 years into the reign of Hezekiah’s great-grandson, Josiah (2 Kings 22:1, 3). Hezekiah’s ignorance of the spiritual well-being of young people led to 75 years of sin in Judah. History reminds us that if we don’t care about youth, we are probably just one generation away from walking away from the faith. 

How to Do Youth Ministry 

If we continue from Hezekiah’s great-grandson, we will see that what brought Judah to repentance was because the young king Josiah was a beneficiary of youth ministry. Two older men, the high priest and the king’s secretary, came and read the Law to young Josiah (2 Kings 22:8-10). When Josiah heard the scriptures, he tore his clothes, showing repentance (2 Kings 22:11). Then he set out to lead the rest of Judah to turn from their sins (2 Kings 22:12-23:25). What started the revival in Judah was the ministry two older men sharing God’s Word with a young man. 

Youth ministry is often rightly criticized for having too much hype and entertainment and very little Bible teaching or preaching. Hype and entertainment are not wrong, but fun alone will not transform young people’s lives, as we see with King Josiah’s (2 Kings 22:11). Young people need the Word, and they need it communicated to them in ways that make sense. Josiah understood what Hilkiah and Shaphan taught him, which is why he responded positively. 

Scripture also teaches us to minister to all people, regardless of age. Ephesians 4:11-13 offers helpful principles that can help us to revolutionize youth ministry. 

  1. People – First, we need people who will shepherd the youth (Ephesians 4:11). One needs not to be a youth himself to shepherd youth effectively. What is needed is a pastoral calling. Within the call is a heavy sense of burden and passion for the youth, without which they will not relentlessly seek and serve. A youth pastor needs to know how to effectively handle the Word of God and meet the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. 
  2. Principles—Secondly, we learn that the person who leads the youth should shepherd them according to biblical principles (Ephesians 4:12). These principles include equipping young people to have a relationship with Christ, evangelizing a lost world, and encouraging one another to continue in the faith. Youth ministry is not for youth to just sit back and consume. They are to go out and minister to others actively. That’s the point of Ephesians 4:12. 
  3. Process – As we continue in Ephesians 4:11-13 we see the process of youth ministry, which is to help young people grow mature in the faith (Ephesians 4:13). We don’t want converts to remain stagnant but to grow continuously. Remember, all Jesus’s disciples were youth. Jeremiah was a youth. Mary and Joseph were youths. David was a youth when he was called to be a king. God uses young people; it is about time they stepped out in faith and actively served in the Kingdom of God. 
  4. Purpose – Lastly, Ephesians 4:13 reminds us of the purpose of youth ministry: to grow to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That is, the end goal of youth ministry is to have young people become more like Christ. We don’t want them to be more like their pastor or to be the coolest people in the world. We want them to be willing to suffer for the sake of Christ and his renown (1 Peter 3:18). We want them to preach the gospel just as Jesus did (Mark 1:14-15). We should groom our youth to live, think, and be as Jesus would have them. This should be the ultimate goal of youth ministry. 

Ephesians 4:11-13 sets a solid biblical framework for youth ministry. We must obey and follow Scripture to help the youth become more like Jesus. History does not have to repeat itself, as seen in the story of Hezekiah. We don’t have to allow Manassehs to lead our communities and countries astray. Let us follow the example of Hilkiah and Shaphan and lead our young people to the Lord through his Word. Instead of focusing on the hype, let us put more emphasis on the biblical principles of youth ministry. This is where our Great Shepherd would have us be (John 21:15-17). 

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